IT’S ‘PRIME’ TIME!

18 06 2014

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There are many people is the world of sports that would suggest emotions have no place in excellent performance. Emotions get a bad name in the sport arena but why is that? Emotions are part of our make-up for a reason and if they didn’t serve a purpose then why would we feel them? So much energy is allocated during performance to stifle emotions or to not feel something, but perhaps we are putting the emphasis in the wrong place.

Research shows that emotions are not our enemy but in instead our ally in the quest for consistently high performance. However, the way we select and use those emotions is very important to the quality of performance. All our emotions are are our reactions to our interpretations of the environment, like our bodies internal thermometer of how we are feeling. If I were about ready to go skydiving for the first time, I would feel a bit anxious about that. When we feel a specific emotion, our body tends for have reactions in line with that emotion. For example, if I am feeling anxiety in that situation, you might expect me to be very quiet, avoid others, or be pacing back and forth. However, instead of seeing emotions and their associated reactions as something to be avoided, let’s harness this knowledge and use it to our advantage for performance.

Having the awareness and ability to select an emotion and elicit that emotion from yourself as a tool for enhanced performance is called EMOTIONAL PRIMING. This skill has been backed in research by showing roughly a .5 standard deviation increase in performance between primed and unprimed performance. That translates to approximately 17% performance increase. Let’s look at this in a real performance example, if I am a hitter batting .250 unprimed, I could increase my average to .293 SIMPLY BY PRIMING MY EMOTIONS!! This is a significant performance increase!!

The first step in learning to prime your emotions is to develop self awareness around what emotion, specific to you, is most effect for performance. Take a moment to think about your best performance, how were you feeling just prior to and during that performance? Be as specific as you can with these emotions. What made you feel that way? This is a very basic way of determining what emotion you are looking to prime. However, emotions are complex, so to determine detailed emotional targets for best results, work with a mental skills trainer to find your specific individual zone.

The next step is to practice eliciting that emotion from yourself when you need it. This may be an image in your head, a past experience you remember vividly, song lyrics, etc. Priming a specific emotion will take practice. Practice several different options to determine which works best and to determine what will most efficiently help you reach that emotion when you need it.

I would like to point out that anger is an emotion that is expressed frequently as a target emotion. However, anger is one emotion that has been found to be consistently counter-productive to performance and here is why. Anger is an uncontrolled emotion with intense adverse reactions (ex, pitchers over throwing the next pitch after not getting a call), in order for the emotion to be helpful we must be in control of it. Most often what athletes mean by anger is that they like to feel amped up or aggressive to elicit that specific reactions they want while still remaining in control of their emotion.

As always this is a skill that will need to be practiced in order to see the full effects. We must practice for several reasons. First, you need to be able to get yourself to that emotion quickly and efficiently. Second, we need to practice remaining with that emotion throughout a performance. Finally, we are not perfect, so when something happens that alters our emotional state, we need to be able to return to that emotion quickly in order for high level performance to continue consistently.

Although they get a bad name, our emotions are there for a reason. In fact I would argue that, not only do they have a place is sport, but have significant impact on the quality of our execution. Practice using them to your advantage as opposed to trying to ignore them. That simple change can have profound impacts on your performance!

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